What are some of the qualities that make up your leadership DNA? Do those qualities go out the window when you’re under pressure? Or maybe during a crisis such as this COVID-19 pandemic?
I recently sat down for a Q&A session that focused on leading during a crisis such as this pandemic. Here’s another excerpt from it.
We’ve been talking about leadership in times of crisis, and I love what you’ve been saying about leading with vulnerability, leading with commitment from the CEO level and focusing on health and how your employees are functioning and feeling and feeling connected. But again, those things work all the time. When we talk right now about getting through a crisis, can you sum up what you think leaders right now, regardless of their industry, should be focusing on in the next 6-18 months to get through this?
Dwayne J. Clark
Well, I’m just going to comment on the first part of your narrative first because, you know, this shouldn’t be like a first date with our employees. And what I mean by that is, when it’s your first date, you get the best haircut, you dress up, get your car detailed, and you take them to the best restaurant. And the second date kind of goes downhill from there and so on. These things have to be in your in your leadership DNA, right? It’s the consistency of these programs, whether it’s about wellness, vulnerability, trust, or safety. It’s just got to be who you are. Because if you take a first-date mentality to leadership and your employees, people are not going to trust you, right? They’re going to say, “Oh, that was true when I first came the company, but it’s not true now.” “We used to do this a year ago, but we don’t do it now.” It’s the consistency that develops the relationship. So I think consistency is important, so don’t take the first-date mentality.
With reference to what’s CEOs should do right now, there are a variety of things. First of all, life safety is more important now than it ever has been, right? And no profit, no share earnings, no stock report—nothing—is worth risking one life, right? So you have to just be so focused on human life, and human contact, wearing a mask, social distancing, disinfecting, technology, and all those things that you can do to just protect human life. So that should be way out in the front for anyone in any business. I don’t care if you own a restaurant, a technology firm, or an assisted living facility, that’s got to be front and center.
The second thing, because we’re dealing in a complex situation right now, is you just need to sit back and listen. You need to ask the questions, whether it’s about Black Lives Matter, or immigration, or politics and which side of the aisle you’re on, you sit back and listen. And, I like to think of my 3,000 employees like a big family, where we get around the table and we say, Hey, I value that you disagree with me, I really do. I want to hear what you have to say. You don’t have to align with my thinking.
In fact, I want a company that’s not of one opinion. I want a company that does disagree with me, because at the end of the day, we are all going to be better for it. Now, we’re going to do that in a respectful way. We’re going to do that in a professional way. And we’re going to come out of the other side of this with some kind of stance on these difficult issues.
That’s what I think CEOs should do. You shouldn’t sit in your boardroom with your five key staff and say, “Hey, here’s what we’re going to do,” without listening. It’s probably the wrong answer if you do.
What do you want to say right now, as a leader? What do you think is the most important thing that people need to hear from you right now?
Dwayne J. Clark
I think people just need to take a breath. I think we are all good people at our core. We all want basically the same things in life, right? We want our own safety. We want our kids to have good lives. We want to have some kind of success in our professional lives, and so on. And I think right now people have a magnifying glass out for the differences between people instead of magnifying glass that finds the similarities.
And I think that’s what leadership does. It takes people with varying degrees of opinion and focuses on the similarities, not the differences. The differences make the culture, the country, the business stronger because you knit together a variety of opinions and come up with a very eclectic kind of end result. When I want to hire people, I like to hire people from really good companies not from my own industry. Rarely, if almost ever, do we hire people from our industry. I love hiring people from the Starbucks or the Amazons or the Googles of the world. And I call it the making a quilt. And what I mean by that is if you think about a patchwork quilt, and one of the patches is Google, and Microsoft, and the Ritz Carlton, and the Four Seasons, all those companies have very different philosophies in how they manage, hire, recruit, train, perform services, develop products, and so on. But it’s that intelligence that comes together, that’s united, and the assembly of that creates something very powerful.
That’s what leaders need to do. They need to take all the intelligence they have with their employees and assemble something that’s a very powerful forward-moving force. And again, right now, people are focusing too much on our differences and not enough our similarities and our strengths.
In unusual times like these COVID-19 times, it’s especially important to continue to be a strong leader. But many of the qualities that make you a strong leader under non-crisis conditions are the same qualities that make you a strong leader in a crisis. Keep your employees first, focus on similarities, and listen.
To catch the entire webinar and find out more about how to lead during COVID-19 and in general, watch here!
Until next time, live well, live long, and lead like you mean it!!